The Menu (2022)

‘The Menu’ offers its share of treats

In the exceedingly pretentious sphere of gourmet connoisseurs, there are two kinds of foodies: eaters and tasters. Depending on your persuasion, you’ll either savor what’s on “The Menu,” or be compelled to send it back to the overheated kitchen of novice chef Mark Mylod.

Me? I gobbled it up until it became a little too tough to swallow. I loved the ingredients: farm-fresh produce in hot-tomato Anya Taylor-Joy and stalky Nicholas Hoult; a piquant pinch of “chilly” courtesy of a villainous Ralph Fiennes; a thick slice of ham via John Leguizamo, sticking a sizable fork into meat-headed actors; and a couple of cheeseburgers in Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, working behind the scenes to make the whole soiree possible. No, my beef is with Mylod (“Succession”), displaying a plethora of first-time jitters in establishing tone and intent.

For one thing, he and writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy select a too-obvious entree by relentlessly dishing on one-percenters reveling in expensive, exotic adventures simply because they can. This one involves ponying up $1,250 a head for the privilege of basking in the presence of the renowned Chef Slowik (Fiennes) on Hawthorn, his private, 12-acre Pacific island, where everything is self-contained, including his staff of knife-wielding sycophants.

It’s so exclusive, only a dozen people can attend per night. But this night, as we pretty much know going in, won’t be typical. In fact, it’s borderline apocalyptic. Instead of eat and run, it’s pretty much eat and die. But the fatalities are not random, nor are they without merit. It’s all about respect, or the lack thereof, when it comes to treating members of the service industry. And it’s not an us-versus-them thing. It’s about all levels of the hierarchies established by those with the most money and the most power.

This, of course, fits snugly into McKay’s wheelhouse of debasing moguls, elitists, grifters and abusers of authority. In fact, the entire movie has “McKay” written all over it, from the clumsy attempts at putting prigs in their places to the clever asides, a la “The Big Short,” employed to educate the masses in the secret language of folks eager to fleece us. Here, it’s literally spelled out on the screen, with detailed descriptions of each course. There are 12 planned in all. I say “planned” because we — or should I say, they? — might not make it to dessert.

So, where’s the meat and potatoes? And, more significantly, what’s the point? I kept hoping for something more profound than a dual put-down of the super-rich and the super-snobby. But that’s all it really is. And that’s a letdown. Yet, I’m recommending it because it somehow manages to be hilarious, especially in the film’s far more entertaining second half, when everything from s’mores to action movies (and the galoots who act in them) get taken to task. Despite my better judgment, I surrendered to laughter once the marshmallows and accelerants interfused into a delicious flambé.

That we remain invested is also a credit to the fine cast, which includes Janet McTeer as a haughty, poison-penned restaurant critic, and Judith Light as the defeated wife of a rich, silver-haired stiff easily mistaken for the walking dead. They effectively render marginally palatable characters lacking depth and inner life. They are all merely types, including Hoult’s Tyler, who quite literally proclaims Chef Slowik’s kitchen concoctions to die for. Be careful what you wish for, son.

From the get-go, you’re baffled as to why a woman as smart, beautiful and sexy as Taylor-Joy’s Margo would be within 10 feet of the self-absorbed Tyler. Heck, he doesn’t even know her last name. But like the many mysteries “The Menu” cooks up, the answer is so obvious you kick yourself for not figuring it out sooner. It’s a role you could see Emma Stone devouring and spinning into Oscar gold. It’s uncanny how Taylor-Joy projects that same vibe in summoning a performance that’s raw, feisty and ultimately rewarding.

Same for Fiennes, whose Slowik presents like a Goebbels in training. When he loudly claps his hands together, everyone sits up and takes notice. So do we! And what you witness is an actor barely concealing his glee in portraying a simmering mass murderer going all Jim Jones on his duped worshippers. I guess that’s the takeaway in this age of MAGA. It takes notice of sheep cluelessly kneeling at the feet of celebrities, politicians and evangelists who would never have our backs in a million years.

Yet, aren’t we, in all actuality, already aware of this? And that’s where Mylod comes up short. He believes satire is a dish best served cold. But not when it’s this icy. It requires a modicum of warmth. And without it, “The Menu” struggles to pass the taste test. Still, try it, you might like it. But don’t forget the Alka Seltzer.

Movie review

The Menu

Rated: R for language throughout, strong violent content, some sexual references

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, Judith Light and John Leguizamo

Director: Mark Mylod

Writers: Seth Reiss and Will Tracy

Runtime: 106 minutes

Grade: B

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